Despite her forty years and a successful career as a rock journalist, Jancee Dunn still feels like a teenager, especially around her parents and sisters. Looking around, Dunn realizes that she’s not alone in this regression: Her friends, all with successful jobs, marriages, and families of their own, still feel like kids around their moms and dads, too. That gets Dunn to thinking: Do we ever really grow up?
Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo? explores this phenomenon–through both Dunn’s coming to grips with getting older and her folks’ attempts to turn back the clock. In a series of hilarious and heartwarming essays, Dunn conspires with her sisters to finagle their way into the old family homestead, dissects the whys and wherefores of her parents’ obsession with newspaper clippings, confronts the seamy side of the JC Penney catalogs she paged through as a kid, and accompanies her sixtysomething mother to a New Jersey tattoo parlor, where Mom is giddy to get a raven inked onto her wrist. And Dunn does it all with humor and insight.
Dunn's travails will be instantly recognizable to readers in their late 30s and 40s a generation that's shifted the family bickering about what to serve at holiday dinners to conference calls and e-mails. Her parents are a bottomless well of comedy, sending her wacky newspaper clippings and grilling her loudly about her inability to go to the bathroom during their vacation. Her circle of friends is equally familiar, like the gay buddy who invites her over for TV-movie parties and can always be counted on to make catty remarks about strangers. Several chapters are filled with transcripts of phone conversations with her best friend, Julie, flitting from topic to topic, comparing the embarrassing songs saved on their iPods and wondering why their parents haven't figured out voice mail isn't like an answering machine ("Hello? Anybody there? Hello, it's Dad"). Dunn's tone is genial, only turning serious briefly near the end when she discusses not having kids and then inadvertently discovers she's finally pregnant. The seriousness doesn't last long, though, and soon it's back to affectionately mocking her mom's decision to get tattooed although, as her sisters point out, she's secretly pleased to have something new to write about.